Tag Archives: Environmental Protection Agency

Experiments on Spartan Mosquito Eradicators

Research conducted in Florida found no evidence that Spartan Mosquito Eradicatiors are effective mosquito-control devices. Here’s the citation:

Aryaprema, V.S., E. Zeszutko, C. Cunningham, E.I.M. Khater, and R.-D. Xue. 2020. Efficacy of commercial toxic sugar bait station (ATSB) against Aedes albopictus. J. Florida Mosquito Control Association 67: 80-83. PDF

Laboratory experiment

Below is a rough reconstruction of the laboratory experiment they conducted. In each of the cages (BugDorm-2120), 100 male and 100 female tiger mosquitoes (Aedes albopictus) were released, then monitored for mortality at 24, 48, and 72 hours.

Schematic of laboratory experiment based on description in Aryaprema et al. 2020.

Below are the cumulative mortality data for the three cages. Result: the Spartan Mosquito Eradicator filled with the provided packet ingredients (treatment) did not result in higher mortality. I.e., there was no evidence the device killed mosquitoes under laboratory conditions.

Field experiment

The researchers also conducted a field experiment using two sites that had large populations of tiger mosquitoes (because of the presence of tires). At each site they deployed five tubes (separated by 4 m), switching whether the tubes were “treatment” or “control” tubes every 2 weeks. A BG-Sentinel trap (without carbon dioxide) was used to quantify mosquito numbers every week.

Schematic of field experiment based on description in Aryaprema et al. 2020.

Below are the weekly numbers of mosquitoes caught in the BG Sentinel traps. Results: there was no evidence that presence of treatment tubes (filled as per company guidelines) reduced the numbers of mosquitoes at the sites.

Conclusions

The scientists concluded that “Both laboratory and field components of our study show that the Spartan Mosquito Eradicator is not effective in reducing abundance of Ae. albopictus.” They speculate that the contents do not attract mosquitoes and that the holes on the device (~3 mm) are too small for mosquitoes to easily reach the fluid inside. They also highlight the need for an experiment to evaluate whether the active ingredient (1% sodium chloride) kills adult mosquitoes. I.e., even if mosquitoes were attracted to Spartan Mosquito Eradicators and could easily get inside, the salt might not be lethal.

Update: the salt experiment has been conducted.

Spartan Mosquito Pro Tech

Here’s a summary of the Spartan Mosquito Pro Tech, the newest device made by the makers of the Spartan Mosquito Eradicator, which I reviewed in 2019. Aside from differences in label design, the Pro Tech looks just like the Spartan Mosquito Eradicator and is filled with essentially the same ingredients (water, sugar, and yeast). The major difference is that the active ingredient is boric acid instead of table salt. They come in a box and you just add warm water, shake, and then hang in a tree.

Box of Spartan Mosquito Pro Techs

How it is supposed to work

The company says the Pro Tech is an attractive toxic sugar bait (ATSB) device, with the lure presumably being the sugar. I write “presumably” because the inventors have said that it is the carbon dioxide (produced by the yeast) that lures mosquitoes to the Eradicator, and the companied hasn’t voiced any change in view for the Pro Tech. Regardless, it is the boric acid that is supposed to kill the mosquitoes, and it certainly would do that if any mosquitoes ingest the solution inside the tube. Here’s the full sequence of events that are said to occur (important steps are bolded):

  1. mosquitoes are attracted to the tubes
  2. mosquitoes land on the tubes
  3. mosquitoes crawl around until they find the 5/32″ holes in the cap
  4. mosquitoes squeeze though the holes
  5. mosquitoes walk down sides of tube toward liquid
  6. mosquitoes ingest some of the liquid
  7. mosquitoes walk back up sides of tube
  8. mosquitoes find holes
  9. mosquitoes squeeze through holes
  10. mosquitoes fly away
  11. mosquitoes die

Steps 7-10 would not be required, of course, but Spartan Mosquito says that mosquitoes do, in fact, exit the tubes, leaving no trace.

So does any of the above actually happen? As of February, 2021, the company’s website has no photographs showing mosquitoes at any of the above 11 steps on Pro Techs deployed outside. I don’t know whether they’ve tried to get such photographs but my guess is that they haven’t. I suspect the company realized that people bought millions of Spartan Mosquito Eradicators without any supporting data or photographic proof that the devices work. There really is no reason why they’d change up that successful strategy.

Efficacy

Per the labelling, the Pro Tech “kills mosquitoes”. It’s unclear whether the number actually killed would make a dent in thousands of mosquitoes that inhabit a typical yard, though. All we know for sure is that more than one mosquito is killed.

Hopefully, scientists will eventually perform experiments on the Pro Tech like they did on the Eradicator (they found that devices don’t work). Until those trials are complete, the only third-party test of whether the Spartan Mosquito Pro Tech works is one I did in my yard. In that test (NB: on a single Pro Tech), I found that the device attracted and killed ants and fruit flies but not mosquitoes. It failed at step 1.

If my results are generalizable to other yards (and to different species of mosquitoes), the question becomes, how was the device was able to secure an EPA registration? I’m wondering whether the data the company submitted to the EPA were from experiments using caged mosquitoes in a laboratory. With cage experiments, mosquitoes would be trapped inside with only a Pro Tech, so one might (possibly) find mosquitoes dead in the cage just because of boric acid fumes. Also, if mosquitoes are trapped inside a cage with the only water source being a tube of boric acid solution, several mosquitoes might eventually go inside the tubes and die there. Both those mechanisms would be major flaws of cage experiments. When I asked the EPA staff whether Spartan Mosquito’s data were actually from outside experiments (the box asserts they kill mosquitoes outside), they held a meeting on the topic and then declined to answer. Here’s a line from the URL they sent me: “When appropriate, laboratory colony or caged wild mosquitoes can be used.”

Indeed, the company admits that field trial data were not even needed to secure the EPA registration:

The major issue with cage experiments of attractive toxic sugar baits (ATSBs) is that they do not test whether the device can compete with all the attractive nectar and fruit in the real world. I.e., mosquitoes will likely have numerous sources of sugar in a yard and may not seek out the ATSB (why would they?). This flaw is not my insight, by the way — most journal articles on ATSB devices mention this issue. I’m not sure whether the EPA even considered this problem during the evaluation of the Pro Tech’s experimental data. They should have, of course.

By the way, the name, “Pro Tech”, is presumably to signify to consumers that the device is “professional technology”. The name choice is interesting because the EPA has specifically prohibited the phrase “Pro Tech” in pesticide names because it implies to consumers the product has extreme efficacy. I’m not sure how the company convinced the EPA to allow its use, especially given the lack of extreme efficacy (device merely “kills mosquitoes”).

If it turns out that the Spartan Mosquito Pro Tech doesn’t kill mosquitoes outside (the claim on the label), the company might be at risk for getting sued, again, for false advertising.

Where it can be sold

Interestingly, California and Maryland don’t seem to allow sales of the Pro Tech. The device has a “conditional” registration in Maine, though I’m not sure what that means.

How it passed regulatory hurdle

Given all of the above, I was not surprised to learn that the EPA registration decision was not just based on experimental data. Spartan Mosquito apparently pitched to the EPA that the device should be fast-tracked given how dangerous mosquitoes are. Evidence for that is from a radio segment featuring Jeremy Hirsch, the inventor and founder. During the interview the host said, “Hirsch is attempting to get an early green-light because mosquitoes are so dangerous”.

How, exactly, does one convince the EPA that a pesticide be rushed through? It turns out that Spartan Mosquito hired a major lobbying firm (Gunster Strategies Worldwide) to get this done. Below is a document from Gunster Strategies that spells it all out:

Gunster Strategies' plan to push through Spartan Mosquito Pro Tech registration process at the Environmental Protection Agency

I haven’t been able to find any documentation on whether Gunster Strategies Worldwide had registered as a lobbyist of the EPA. Spartan Mosquito is not listed among companies lobbying the EPA in either 2019 or 2020.

In regards to the op-eds mentioned in scheme, it appears that a health official in Togo was one of the writers, though it came in the form of a press release. It would be interesting to know who actually wrote that press release and also whether Dr Tinah was paid in some way.

I’m still trying to figure out who the firm payed to write letters to EPA officials. I would also like to know which administrators at the EPA were targeted.

Although not mentioned in the strategy document, Spartan Mosquito and one of its founders gave approximately $10,000 to the Cindy Hyde-Smith, the senator who chairs the committee with EPA oversight. I don’t think they donated to any other senator. It would be interesting to know whether Senator Hyde-Smith was one of the persons who called EPA officials about the Pro Tech.

I’m not sure how it fits into categories listed above, but it’s possible that two companies (see below) were created for the sole purpose of influencing the Pro Tech’s registration. Both companies claimed to be non-profits that highlighted their goal of helping people in dire need. But they were both singularly interested in promoting Spartan Mosquito. So my guess is they were involved somehow.

Innovative Mosquito Control, Inc

Innovative Mosquito Control (INMOCO) purports to be a public benefit corporation devoted to fighting malaria in Africa. As part of this effort it claims to have partnered with Spartan Mosquito to promote/supply the company’s tubes to the region. Its CEO and President is Omar Arouna (2nd from left in photograph below), a lobbyist based in D.C. who typically charges $1,500/hr for consulting and social media campaigns. There’s no further information on who works at the company or whether it even has employees. Contributing to the lack of information is that fact that the business was set up in Delaware, a state popular among companies that want to keep the true owner secret. And the company’s website was housed on a server in the U.S. Virgin Islands, also famous for companies that want to obscure their operations. It all seems needlessly secretive for a company that is ostensibly fighting malaria. But here’s the interesting part: Mr Arouna has worked with Gunster Strategies on several occasions. And as a minor fact, both INMOCO and Gunster Strategies use Wix for websites. It seems likely that they collaborated on this scheme.

Dr. Atcha-Oubou Tinah, MD-MPH (Coordinator of the Togolese National Malaria Control Program), Omar Arouna (President and CEO Innovative Mosquito Control Incorporated, Dr Moustafa Mijiyawa (Togolese Minister of Health and Public Hygiene, Chair of the Africa CDC Governing Board), & Jeremy Hirsch (Founder and Chairman of the Board, Spartan Mosquito).

What’s also fishy is that soon after the Pro Tech got its registration from the EPA, INMOCO’s website was taken down and its Facebook page (which has zero followers) has had no further posts. And Mr Arouna’s LinkedIn profile is devoid of any mention of the company he heads. It’s as if the whole operation was created just to give the illusion that Spartan Mosquito was going to rid the world of malaria, which in turn could be used to manipulate somebody at the EPA.

West Nile Education, Eradication & Prevention

WEEP & Recover, a Mississippi non-profit, was also set up in the months before the EPA’s consideration of the Pro Tech. It’s run by James Hendry, probably most famous for his other non-profit, Mississippi for Family Values (which got him onto Oprah, I gather). The WEEP & Recover website and Facebook page are full of slick graphics and videos, most of which feature Spartan Mosquito and, notably, include no other mosquito-control company or strategy.

Functionally, WEEP & Recover is an advertising arm of Spartan Mosquito. The videos, graphics, and website design are all provided by the branding firm, Unify by Bread. Unify by Bread also produced a heartwarming video about hardware store staff that used Spartan Mosquito products as backdrops. It would be interesting to know who is funding WEEP & Recover and Unify by Bread. The bills are likely in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Another huge reason to suspect WEEP & Recover is a sham non-profit is that Mississippi already had a well-established, respected non-profit devoted to West Nile education and prevention: Mosquito Illness Alliance. The Mosquito Illness Alliance, however, has long viewed Spartan Mosquito’s devices as ineffective, and it was not shy about telling the public about that fact.

By the way, James Hendry and Spartan Mosquito also worked together to make April 13-19 “Mississippi Mosquito & West Nile Virus Awareness Week”, an effort that apparently has died in committee (FYI, bill was also plagiarized). But proposing it was a PR coup and photo op for Spartan Mosquito because it all went down in the months before the EPA considered the Pro Tech. I wonder whether it was suggested by Gunster Strategies. Here’s the staged photograph, linked to the post on Spartan Mosquito’s Facebook page (a post the company has decided to hide).


I suspect there’s more to be discovered about how the Spartan Mosquito Pro Tech got its EPA registration. If anyone has further information, please contact me.

Effects of mosquito sprays on humans, pets, and wildlife

Mosquito Authority, Mosquito Joe, Mosquito Platoon, Mosquito Shield, Mosquito Squad, TruGreen, and many other companies often imply that the insecticides they spray on yards are safe for everything except mosquitoes. These companies are also very reluctant to reveal what chemicals they use. This page contains information on what, exactly, they spray and what effects those chemicals have.

After a little digging, I think I’ve uncovered most of the active ingredients used by these companies:

Please email me if you think I’ve made an error or if you know that a formulation has changed (which happens). All of the chemicals are either pyrethrins or pyrethroids, which are natural and synthetic (respectively) neurotoxins that cause almost instant paralysis and death to mosquitoes. Below is the chemical structure for one, permethrin:

Are these chemicals safe for humans?

Pyrethroids are relatively safe but should not be viewed as harmless. If you spill enough on your skin you might experience itchiness, numbness, nausea, and respiratory problems, among a rather long list of adverse events. Although you obviously can’t test whether pyrethroids harm human brains, studies on mice and rats suggest that the chemicals do act on mammalian nervous systems; that should at least give you pause if you have kids rolling around on the grass after the yard gets dosed. Indeed, there is at least one correlational study that suggests exposure to pyrethroids is not good for kids (or at least boys). There are also scattered reports that some pyrethroids are carcinogenic and estrogenic but I don’t think such effects are shockingly large, and to date they seem to be restricted to mouse studies. At very high doses pyrethroids can kill you, a fact known because some people have injected it (suicide) and in one case because somebody ate food that was cooked in pyrethroid concentrate (it resembles cooking oil).

Are pyrethroids safe for pets?

Dogs and chickens seem to be fine. Cats, however, lack sufficient levels of a liver enzyme that helps detoxify pyrethroids and can thus develop what is called pyrethroid toxicosis. A good indicator of cat sensitivity to pyrethroids is the standard warning of keeping cats away from pyrethroid-treated dogs. I.e., if you dose your dog with a large amount of pyrethroids (to kill fleas, e.g.), cats that cuddle with the dog are at risk. If you’d like to see a video of rag doll cat with pyrethroid poisoning (you probably don’t), here’s a video.

Do pyrethroids kill other animals? 

Yes.

For example, the spray kills monarch caterpillars, even weeks later later due to the presence of insecticide dried onto milkweed leaves (Oberhuaser et al. 2006).

And the spray can kill honey bees, even if honey bees are inside their hives when the pyrethroids are spayed (workers bring small amounts back to the hive the following day if they land on treated plants or if they find small puddles of water to drink). Sublethal amounts of pyrethroids can change honey bee behavior and make workers smaller. I would imagine the pyrethroids would end up in the honey, too.

And pyrethroids kill fireflies, which are most active in a yard in the late evening when mosquito-spraying franchises like to fog.

My favorite group of unnoticed insects that are killed by evening pyrethroid applications are solitary bees, of which there are approximately 4,000 species in the United States. These are bees that collect pollen and nectar during the day but spend their evenings and nights in holes (e.g., mason bees) or clamped to low vegetation. E.g., look at this a two-spotted long-horned bee (Melissodes bimaculatus) from my front yard this summer. Everyone has dozens of species of native bees in their yards but few people realize it. So when pesticide applicators claim their pyrethroid sprays “don’t harm bees” or are “bee friendly”, that is entirely untrue. It’s simply a marketing slogan they were taught when they bought the franchise, and they will insist it’s true even when presented with evidence to the contrary.

Anyone using a spraying service is, therefore, killing all of the above and more. Insects are small and easy to ignore, but if you were to go out after a spraying and look very carefully, you’d find thousands of dead insects on the ground. And only an extremely small percentage would be mosquitoes.

Pyrethroids can kill ALL arthropods, in fact, not just insects. So if a yard is sprayed, likely you’d likely find dead spiders, mites, centipedes, and millipedes.

One obvious consequence of gassing all the arthropods in a yard is that bird species that eat arthropods will have a lot less to eat. Population levels of swallows and flycatchers, for example, have dropped in last several decades and one explanation is that there are fewer insects to eat.

And then there are fish, which are acutely sensitive to pyrethroids. Franchise owners will generally avoid spraying near people’s fish ponds and bodies of water. Indeed, by law pyrethroids can’t be used near water, though there are many reports of franchises ignoring that regulation. Even if a property doesn’t have a pond or stream, pyrethroids are rather stable in the soil and tend to get washed into nearby streams after rains. It is increasingly accepted that runoff of pyrethroids into creeks can kill fish downstream.

Finally, pyrethroids are toxic to certain earthworms. This is probably especially true for those species that come out onto lawn surfaces in the evening, when pyrethroids are often applied. To be honest, many people don’t really care about earthworms (some hate them) but for people who love aerated lawns it should be pointed out that fogging with pyrethroids might result in less aeration. And, perhaps, result in robins that wonder where all the worms have gone.

Do pyrethroids affect plants?

As you might expect, plants that depend on pollinators are likely to have reduced seed production if dosed with an insecticide. E.g., Brittany Harris found reduced reproductive success of rare plants in Florida when they were located near houses sprayed with insecticide. Pyrethroids can also harm plants directly (e.g., Tu 1981, Bragança et al. 2018).

Pyrethoids are engineered to last for weeks

As mentioned above, pyrethroids adhere to plant surfaces and stay chemically active for weeks, so the risk to all the organisms mentioned above can last for weeks. Here’s a a description of pyrethroid persistence that I found on a Mosquito Squad FAQ:

“How can the barrier spray continue to kill mosquitoes for 21 days? Mosquitoes will feed on plant juices. When they attempt to feed on sprayed leaves, the residual from the spray will kill them.

Mosquitoes don’t eat leaves, of course, but the quote is correct about the fate of insects that walk on treated leaves. Pesticide franchises like to claim that once their product is dry it is no longer toxic, but that claim makes no logical sense in light of their claim that the product provides protection for three weeks. Some pyrethroids can even last for 90 days if they are on shaded surfaces.

Signage and notification requirements

There doesn’t seem to be a Federal law requiring either signage or neighbor notification when a yard is sprayed with insecticide, and state laws are variable (here’s a good review; here’s another). Many states have laws that require applicators to leave signs at properties that have been sprayed, and some require notification of neighbors prior to spraying. For example, most counties in New York require that neighbors be notified 48 hours before spraying (details). That’s also an option for beekeepers in some states, too; in that case the pesticide applicators need to search a database of hives in a town, then notify hive owners when spraying will happen.

I live in Pennsylvania, one of several states that allows people to be placed on a Pesticide Hypersensitivity Registry. Once on it, pesticide applicators will know you have a medical issue with pesticides and they are obliged to inform you of future spraying (so you can leave the area).

If you want to know what rules might apply in your state, Googling “pesticide notification laws regulations residential pennsylvania” (replace with your state) will get you started. If that doesn’t help just contact your state agency that regulates pesticide use. Towns and cities will sometimes have their own rules but some states prohibit such rules.

How local governments can help

All towns and cities should maintain a web page that provides mosquito information and relevant pesticide laws to residents. Towns can also enact ordinances on third-party pesticide applications. For example, a town might require that franchises alert neighbors 48 hours before spraying is done.

State governments can also make sure that pesticide franchises are not making false claims. E.g., if companies claim through words or imagery that their pyrethroid-containing sprays are “environmentally friendly,” “bee friendly,” “kid friendly,” “pet friendly,” or government approved (e.g., “EPA-approved”), sue them. Massachusetts did, and now has several restrictions on advertising including a ban on ads that “rely on images of young children to convey a sense of harmlessness“. Almost all sites I’ve looked at have misleading wording, especially the claim that pyrethroid-containing sprays “target” mosquitoes and ticks (completely false; they do no such thing). 

Is spraying effective?

Although spraying pyrethroids might be a good way to kill mosquitoes near the ground and in low shrubs, many mosquito species spend most of their time high up in the canopies of trees and are untouched by sprays. For example, many species in the genus Culex (transmitters of West Nile virus, St. Louis encephalitis, eastern equine encephalitis, western encephalitis, avian malaria, etc.) are tree dwellers and only occasionally come down to feed on humans and pets. This limitation isn’t just theoretical: one study showed spraying didn’t reduce numbers of Culex at all. So if you have trees and birds, don’t expect that spraying will be effective.

But I don’t want to imply that spraying is completely ineffective. Pyrethroid fogs will probably kill a large percentage of Anopheles spp. (vectors of malaria) and Aedes spp. (vectors of dengue, yellow fever, Zika, etc.) because these species are more likely to be lower in the vegetation.

Do garlic sprays work?

Many pest-control companies offer a garlic-based spray, too. I haven’t been able to find any scientific publication on these sprays. They might work. But they might also just cater to people’s hopes. Ask the company for printed efficacy data and pass if all they give are testimonials and promises. If you know of a peer-reviewed article showing that garlic spray kills and/or repels mosquitoes, please contact me and I’ll include here.

Automatic fogging systems

For about $4,000, some companies will install systems that dispense pyrethroids over your yard at regular intervals. Don’t do this. Just don’t.

Alternatives to spraying

Here are my tips.